State-of-the-art technology plays key role in collaborative performance on grief, loss and commemoration

Attending the wake of a stranger at their home isn’t usually a recipe for entertainment, but an immersive performance uses the gathering following a grandmother’s death to bring together tradition, technology and research in an unforgettable live experience. 

Granny Jackson’s Dead takes the audience to an Irish wake in Belfast to explore grief, loss and commemoration. 

Granny Jackson appears in a jar during the performance, thanks to SODA's technology
Granny Jackson appears in a jar during the performance, thanks to SODA’s technology

The audience will gather at a Georgian townhouse to hear Granny Jackson’s story unfold, bringing together augmented reality, virtual reality, AI and immersive technology with the more traditional tea, singing, tears and tales of a wake. 

The research project is a collaboration between Big Telly Theatre Company, Manchester Metropolitan University and NatCen, funded by the Centre for Cultural Value. The research team includes staff from the Department of Art and Performance and the School of Digital Arts (SODA). 

Michael Pinchbeck, Professor of Theatre at Manchester School of Theatre, said: “This is an exciting industry-facing collaboration between Manchester School of Theatre and SODA using cutting-edge technology. 

“Our performance research has a long-term interest in grief, memory and commemoration. During the pandemic, we saw how inescapable technology was for many forms of social interaction, including mourning.” 

Josh Edelman, Reader in Drama and Contemporary Performance at Manchester School of Theatre, said: “We’re interested in exploring how face-to-face encounters and digital tools can work together in an immersive performance.  

“Collaborating with NatCen and Big Telly to explore these ideas in such an innovative, creative, and engaging way has transformed our approach to working across disciplines and contexts.” 

Kirsty Fairclough, Professor in Screen Studies at SODA, said: “We were delighted to use our cutting-edge facilities at SODA to contribute to this project using VR and motion capture, underscoring our mission to bring together storytelling, technology and innovation.” 

An actor uses motion capture technology at SODA

Zoe Seaton, Artistic Director of Big Telly Theatre Company said: “There are so many different elements to this show, and I’m excited about all of them, but most of all, because I know that the audience will have a brilliant time at this delightfully dysfunctional family function. As Thornton Wilder put it – ‘From the start it has been the theatre’s business to entertain people. It needs no other passport than fun.’” 

The immersive performance begins as part of the NI Science Festival, running from 15 – 25 February 2024 at 47 Malone Road, Belfast, before touring nationally.